Dressing the Castle for Christmas is no ordinary project: every year we plan and prepare and every year it is always something of a test. The main ingredient required therefore is always a good sense of humour and a lot of laughter.
Lauren, in the office here, is in charge of organising the assorted Christmas trees: the huge one for the Saloon, 20 smaller ones for the drive and about 10 quite large ones by various doors and courtyards. John, our unique and detailed Castle Manager becomes most exercised about “size”. Lauren spends a lot of time asking, and confirming, the main Saloon tree will be no more than 22ft high. Of course, and with predictable inevitability, the tree that arrives is 26ft and nearly the length of the trailer… So, David Hilton, our joiner, goes to work and removes 4ft from it and then prepares the end of the tree so that it fits into the special three footed base he made for it to go into each year. This base is a work of art, made entirely from used floorboards from a cottage we were renovating in the Park and is beautifully constructed including clamps to ensure the tree is held straight.
Before the appointed day we are going to put the tree up, the farm stores it in a barn for 3 or 4 days to make sure that there is no moisture on it which would damage the walls in the Castle. Then a magic combination of ropes, man power, team work, coffees and sausage rolls all help get the tree up over the morning.
Using greenery to help celebrate Christmas goes back a long way. The Romans celebrated the winter festival of Saturnalia using evergreen plants to make wreaths. Mind you – given it is winter – evergreens would have been the only choice. The Anglo Saxons’ carried on…..again living in the countryside here, the plants which are interesting at this time of year are the pines, the hollies and mistletoe. Christmas tree decoration really began to develop during the 18th and 19th century especially in Germany and became the celebration we would recognise today.
I hope that visitors and guests will enjoy our efforts next week at Highclere – we have some lovely events and above all we are seeking to raise money for different charities. The most special day is our Songs for Peace. Most of us have a home in which to celebrate, food, hospitals and schools. Those around Aleppo do not and the idea of Sunday December 11th is to raise money for them. We have posted lists of what we are singing here and whether you choose Oxfam or the Red Cross or Save the Children, it is a time and an idea to help others.